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UNICEF and partners race to prevent second wave of death in the Horn of Africa

2011-10-27

TORONTO, 28 October 2011 – One hundred days since famine was declared in parts of southern Somalia, UNICEF and its partners are doing their utmost to prevent a second wave of deaths from disease against a background of conflict.

"With the onset of the rainy season, Somalia and neighbouring countries will experience some relief from drought,” says UNICEF Canada’s President and CEO David Morley who recently returned from the northern Kenya Dadaab refugee camps. “However rains may also lead to outbreaks of a second and potentially more lethal wave of death due to disease outbreak.”

The escalation of fighting across the South of Somalia is making it even more difficult for UNICEF partners to safely deliver life-saving support to children and their families.

Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa says these factors could aggravate the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the region. “UNICEF will expand its efforts to reach children wherever they are and minimize the impact of the deteriorating situation. We appeal to our donors to ramp up their invaluable support," he added.

In Mogadishu, a UNICEF and WHO-supported measles vaccination campaign began this week for 750,000 children between six months and 15 years old. Since the declaration of famine in July, more than 1 million children have been vaccinated against measles in Somalia.

"Across the country, tens of thousands of children have died in past months, and hundreds more die every day. Any delay or disruption in the delivery of assistance is a matter of life and death," said Sikander Khan, UNICEF’s Representative in Somalia.

"I urge all parties to the conflict to meet their moral and legal obligation to provide safety and security to children and women already facing a disaster,” he added, from Nairobi.

Severely malnourished children are 9 times more likely to die from infectious diseases such as measles, cholera and malaria than healthy children. Measles cases have increased dramatically this year – in July, when famine was first declared, there were more than 7 times as many measles cases than the same month in 2010.

Large numbers of people on the move, extremely overcrowded camps for displaced people, low immunity and poor water and sanitation infrastructure are also major risks. The onset of the rainy season generally leads to spikes in the number of people suffering from water-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhoea and malaria.

The disease caseload is also high in neighbouring Kenya, where there is an outbreak of dengue fever.

Fighting and heightened security in the border area have led to a significant decrease in the number of Somali refugees crossing into Kenya from an average of 1,000 in September  per day to 100 at the end of October.

Despite the temporary suspension of all but life-saving humanitarian activities in the refugee camps at Dadaab in Northeast Kenya following the abduction of two  aid workers, UNICEF is committed to continuing support for severely malnourished and ill children as well as providing safe water, education and protection services through its partner organizations.

Since the declaration of famine on July 20, almost 110,000 severely malnourished children were treated at UNICEF-supported centres across the region. More than 2.6 million people were provided with access to safe water and over 1.5 million were reached with hygiene awareness and supplies. Since July, 8,700 metric tons of life-saving supplies were delivered by air, land or sea to South and Central Somalia.

The international community’s response since the famine declaration was tremendous,” said As Sy. “But the magnitude of the crisis is such that we are far from reaching every child.”

UNICEF’s Horn of Africa appeal for operations in 2011 was US$425 million.  The needs for 2012 will still be in the hundreds of millions and contributions will be urgently needed so that feeding programmes can assist children and their families in need without any breaks.

For Somalia alone, UNICEF needs US$300 million in 2012 to ensure the current level of support and to scale up where needed. “We need to get these funds as early as possible to secure the pipeline of critical supplies keeping children alive,” said Khan.

 

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For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.